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Smarter Railways

Embedded intelligence, analytics and optimisation are reshaping the transportation industry

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IBM Global Rail Innovation Center opens in Beijing, China.

Rail Transportation

A new centre of innovation opens its doors: The IBM Global Rail Innovation Centre serves as a forum for rail leaders world-wide to collaborate on the challenges facing railways and drives the co-creation of solutions, industry standards, research and thought leadership in the pursuit of smarter railways.

A series of conversations for a smarter planet


Building a Smarter Rail System

IBM has opened a new Global Rail Innovation Centre that will bring together the world's foremost industry leaders, researchers and universities to advance next-generation rail systems. Smarter railways are an integral part of a smarter planet, and this video helps explain how that can be done.

Building a Smarter Rail System

Remember how maths and physics problems in school often used trains as an example? That's because railways have always generated data. And today, with RFID and other technologies, they generate more data than ever before. IBM can use that data to help make railways more efficient, safer, faster, cleaner, and profitable. In a word: smarter.

IBM Smarter Trends

This new resource shares content on key issues such as: transport, energy, water and city development.


Putting smarter rail transportation on the fast track

In regions throughout the world, the public and private sectors recognise the need for a better transportation infrastructure. And increasingly, they see the potential of smarter railways to address that need. But how do we get there?

Through the vagaries of history, geography, economics and politics, some continents (such as Europe) are much farther along in optimising their transportation infrastructure for train passengers, even as others (especially North America) outpace them in the use of rail for freight transportation. Each could learn something from the other. We've reached an historic point — whereby technological advancements now meet the societal, environmental and financial demands for a more efficient and intelligent transportation system. An instrumented, interconnected and intelligent transportation infrastructure — and smarter railways, in particular — could make the global economy stronger, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make highways safer and reduce road congestion. A smarter planet, in other words, needs smarter railways.

Japan's Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the world's most heavily travelled high-speed rail line, has an annual average delay of only 30 seconds.. Amtrak operates on 22,000 miles of track-97% of which is owned by freight railways. In the next five years, an estimated $300 billion will be spant globally on railway development and upgrades.


The top four challenges faced by global rail executives. Capacity and congestion. Operational effeciency and reliability. Structural and competition issues. Safety and Security.

The smarter railway: an opportunity for the railway industry

In 2009, the global rail industry will struggle to meet the increasing demand for freight and passenger transportation. While it is natural for business to brace itself during difficult economic times, this is actually the opposite of what rail executives need to be doing today. This report explains why now is the time to invest in creating real innovation for an industry that needs to launch itself forward to meet the needs of the twenty-first century.


Railways have always been part of a wider ecosystem — in the early twentieth century, railways even helped pave the roadways that connected farmers, commodity merchants and travellers to the rail lines. In the twenty-first century, rail companies will continue to collaborate with and extend their networks across an even wider array of the transportation infrastructure, including travel partners, suppliers, logistics service providers, intermodal carriers, regulatory agencies and customers.

Smarter Transportation
IBM researcher Laura Wynter discusses how IBM is working to build smarter railways in some of the most complex transit systems in the world, partnering with Netherlands Railways, the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation and Guangzhou Metro in China to improve the commute of millions of travellers every day.

Smarter Transportation


Each year, rail lines carry 21 billion passengers and 10 billion tons of freight worldwide. Rail carries 6.25% of all intercity passanger traffic in Europe compared to 0.3% in the United States. However, only 18% of intercity freight travels by rail in Europe, compared to 47% in the United States. Note: For intercity freight by rail and pipeline transport is excluded. All percentages are estimates.

Railways need to become even more instrumented. Already, trackside devices monitor acoustic signatures and heat and wheel impact at most North American and many European railways. RFID tags, read by fixed infrastructure along the wayside, help identify rail cars, while wireless networks and video systems provide monitoring of assets in rail yards. But new business models and practices are also coming into use. Passengers can be charged based on actual usage. Maintenance can be initiated based on accurate need predictions, rather than regulated schedules. And advanced cameras and video systems can provide better security for passengers, rolling stock and freight.

Rail networks are one of industry's earliest examples of an interconnected system, but vast opportunities exist for improvement today. Block train scheduling can create greater utilisation of assets and capacity for both passengers and freight. Broader networks of high-speed passenger rail — with integrated systems of schedules, ticketing and services — are in development across Europe and in China, even as European and Canadian rail system manufacturers are looking beyond their more mature markets to ambitious rail projects in Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Putting all this data and process to work will require a transportation infrastructure that is measurably more intelligent. The benefits, however, make rail the transportation option of the future. Mobile condition-based monitoring systems will provide railways with more intelligence through continuous realtime capture and analysis of critical data, such as the health of rolling stock, as well as operational data, from manifest verifications to freight condition and intrusion detection. Sensors on cars will trigger messages based on decision modelling and analytics. Autonomic routines will then distribute the information appropriately, dispatching service, ordering parts, scheduling maintenance and performing remote diagnostics. Eventually, such mobile technologies could reduce the need for fixed infrastructure along the wayside and give railway the flexibility and responsiveness they need to make decisions to optimise crew schedules, add or remove cars, and integrate passenger and freight transport more seamlessly, with far fewer delays.


It won't happen without investment and clear priorities. But smarter railways can create competitive advantages in the ecosystem of transportation infrastructure for rail companies. Smarter railways can reduce the costs of adding new lines and rolling stock even as they increase customer service in a capacity constrained environment. And by taking on more freight and passenger traffic, smarter railways can reduce congestion and improve safety on highways — which will also reduce carbon emissions.

In the 19th century, railways provided transportation for the industrial revolution. Now, poised to become instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, they're an important part of building a smarter planet.

Smarter transportation means better systems for rail, air, public transit and freight. These can improve our cities, our economy and our daily lives.